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McKinney Community Fights Charges of Racism Brought on by Pool Party Video

Did racism play a hand in the McKinney, Texas, pool party that ended with a cop using force on teens? Some who live in the neighborhood aren't so sure.

A seven-minute video of a police officer's forceful treatment of pool-partying teenagers has thrust the town of McKinney, Texas into the fierce national debate over police tactics and racism — a tempest that some residents say their town doesn't deserve.

The episode has taken on a surreal quality, as witnesses of varied races and ages disagree on how, why and when the school-graduation celebration went bad.

The video, shot by a teenager who attended the Friday night party, focuses on Eric Casebolt, one of a dozen officers who responded to calls of a disturbance at the Craig Ranch Community North Pool. The officers were unable to control several teenagers, and in the chaos Casebolt can be seen wresting a 15-year-old girl to the ground. At another point, Casebolt pulls his gun.

The images drew outrage from parents, civil rights leaders and elected officials, and made McKinney the latest case study of an American community riven by racism.

But is it?

Jordan Gray, a 16-year-old who attended the party with his mother and younger sister, told NBC News that he felt the largely black party was treated differently almost from the moment they arrived at the pool, which is open to neighborhood residents and two guests each.

Some white pool-goers gave them derogatory looks, and the security guard picked on them when he asked for proof that they weren't flouting the guest rule, Gray said. Rather than deal with the guard, many teens began hopping the fence, and as more confrontations broke out, someone called the police.

Gray, who is African American, said he understood why the incident became such big news.

"This isn't the first time people have seen blacks being put on the ground, being abused, being pushed into a situation where a cop has pulled a gun on them," he said.

But his father, Maurice Gray, who wasn't at the party, said the incident did not reflect a larger racial problem. He recalled moving to McKinney, a Dallas suburb, from St. Louis, Missouri, for the opportunity and diversity.

McKinney, one of Texas' fastest growing cities, is about 77 percent white and about 11 percent black. But the neighborhood of Craig Ranch, residents say, is much more racially integrated.

"It wasn't a black or white thing," Maurice Gray said. "It was trying to take the teenagers to a different level to calm them down. McKinney is a safe place. Very diverse."

But Maurice Gray also said he was troubled by some of the comments he's seen on a community internet forum. He said he hoped the incident didn't hurt race relations.

Benet Embry, a black father of two who witnessed the fracas, said he did not condone Casebolt's behavior, but was convinced that the response to the party wasn't motivated by racism.

He spoke of a white neighbor who tried to help black kids hurt in the disturbance, but has been accused on social media as being racist and has received death threats.

"I want to tell people outside this community that this is not Baltimore, this is not Ferguson, it's nothing like that," Embry said. "My neighbors are good neighbors. We're not racist."

A 32-year-old mother, a white woman who also saw the violence but declined to give her name out of fear she too would be threatened, said the officer's actions "looked terrible on camera" but was "one tiny bit of what happened" and was being blown out of proportion.

As she spoke, she stood with some black and white teens.

She said she'd never seen anything like what was happening in her town.

"Right now I feel like our neighborhood is divided," she said. "Very much so. It's heartbreaking. It's scary. It's not our community."

Embry said he worried that the rush to judgment may prove more divisive than any cause.

"Before we start putting our fists in the air and start talking about, 'All black lives matter,' which they do, and 'Power to the people,' and things of that nature, let's get all the facts and then come together as a community," he said. "Not only as a community here in Craig Ranch, but a community all over the nation. Because in the end we're all Americans."

McKinney's police union also weighed in on Monday, saying they didn't believe the incident was motivated by racial profiling.

"The McKinney FOP assures that this was not a racially motivated incident and can say without a shadow of doubt that all members of the McKinney FOP and McKinney PD do not conduct racially biased policing," the McKinney Fraternal Order of Police said in a statement. However, they added, "The McKinney FOP does not condone professional officers cursing at juveniles or any citizen during routine calls for service."

Amy Calvin contributed.